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Auditor-General who stuck to his guns dies

A former public finances watchdog who was arrested during an investigation that sparked a political scandal has died.

Larry Dennis, who was Auditor-General for 31 years, was 76.

Mr Dennis retired in 2009 and was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2010.

He was given the award in recognition of "services to good governance in Bermuda; for his role as Auditor-General for 31 years and his efforts to improve public accountability".

Mr Dennis was critical of the handling of the public purse in reports prepared under United Bermuda Party as well as Progressive Labour Party governments.

Mr Dennis told The Royal Gazette in 2010: "I think I transformed the office from one of just checking vouchers to one of investigation.

“That was a sea change and I'm very proud of it."

But it was the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal, which included his high-profile arrest in a hunt for leaked documents, when his Victoria Street office was twice raided by police, that defined his career.

The raids followed allegations of corruption at the BHC made in the House of Assembly in 2002 by Michael Dunkley, then an Opposition UBP MP.

The now-closed Mid-Ocean News later published documents that detailed substantial payments by the BHC to contractors.

Dame Jennifer Smith, then the premier, asked Mr Dennis to carry out an investigation in 2002.

His report, completed in May that year, led to a police investigation.

Details from the report were published in the Gazette a year later.

A former BHC general manager was arrested and questioned and Terrence Smith, a former property manager at the corporation, was jailed for eight years in 2006 for fraud uncovered by the investigation.

The case sparked a recommendation from Mr Dennis to the Government to enact legislation to protect whistle-blowers, which was carried out under Paula Cox, a former PLP premier.

The BHC investigation also resulted in Mr Dennis’s arrest for alleged possession of stolen documents and not revealing his source.

He denied any wrongdoing and was later cleared – but Mr Dennis was concerned at the breach of confidentiality at his office, which he said might deter people from coming forward in the future.

Concerns over the arrest were also raised in Britain’s Houses of Parliament.

Mr Dennis’s criticism of the Government was often unpopular and in 2009 Ewart Brown, then the PLP premier, asked Sir Richard Gozney, then the Governor, to ask for Mr Dennis’s resignation for politicisation of his job.

Sir Richard refused and took the same stance later with other calls for Mr Dennis to go.

Alex Scott, a former PLP premier as well as Minister of Works & Engineering, said he encountered Mr Dennis in both roles.

Mr Scott said: “He stood his ground firmly, leaving no doubt as to his feelings on any given issue.

“We may not have seen every issue through the same lens, but he certainly gave a full service to Bermuda. He was truly a professional.”

Mr Scott said he had won praise as a minister with his handling of a problem at the airport.

He added: “Mr Dennis had taken us to task on management in that area.

“On this occasion we had done well, and I asked him why he did not speak on this.

“He told me: ’My job is not to praise you – it’s to evaluate you’.”

Bob Richards, a former One Bermuda Alliance finance minister, said Mr Dennis was “a stickler and an accountant’s accountant”.

Mr Richards added: “I dealt with Mr Dennis when I was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. He brought reports to the PAC including special reports on capital projects.

“He understood that his role was as watchdog for the public purse. Quite frankly, I learnt a lot from him.

“He was passionate about what he did and he realised it was very, very important.”

Mr Dennis was also a longtime coach with the Netts netball team.

Mr Dennis was the longest-serving Auditor-General in the British Commonwealth when he stepped down.

He said at the time that “criticism comes with the job”.

He added: "Sometimes it might be hurtful, but professionally it's the satisfaction you're doing the job right.

"As long as I kept my life compartmentalised I was fine – I was able to cope very well."

Mr Dennis, from Smith’s, attended Mount Saint Agnes Academy, followed by studies at Boston College and in Canada.

He became a chartered accountant and moved into auditing, working in the field for nine years in Canada before the post of Auditor-General was advertised in Bermuda.

Mr Dennis was appointed as Auditor-General in 1978.

He admitted that his criticism of the stewardship of public cash was often unwelcome.

He told the Gazette in 1994: “I was not very diplomatic in my early days, I was very critical and sometimes I blush at some of the things I said.

“But I found this post frustrating when I compared it to the Canadian Auditor, who was quite pointed in his criticism of his government.”

He added: “I believe that my criticism was effective – it made the Government more aware of what it should be doing.

“I jump-started a change with my attitude, so perhaps it was very good for the times.“

Mr Dennis is survived by his wife, Nancy, and daughter Shallan.

⋅ Larry Thomas Dennis, a former Auditor-General, was born on September 2, 1944. He died in May 2021. Mr Dennis was 76.